1st Edition

21st Century Theories of Religion

Edited By Michael Stausberg Copyright 2025
    336 Pages 3 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    336 Pages 3 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    What is religion and how does it originate? What are its functions and how does it work? These are some of the key questions addressed by theories of religion. Far from being a past concern, a series of new answers have been proposed since the beginning of our present millennium by evolutionary biologists and psychologists, philosophers, sociologists, and scholars of religion.

    In 21st Century Theories of Religion, Michael Stausberg is joined by leading scholars from Europe and North America to present and critically discuss fifteen contemporary theories. Contributions introduce the theoreticians, unpack their arguments, review their reception, and engage in critical debates. The volume provides a cutting-edge point of entry into a key conversation that no student and scholar of religion/s can afford to ignore.


    1.     On theories of religion: varieties, distinctions, questions

    Michael Stausberg

    2.     A rational choice-based theory of religion: On Rodney Stark and Roger Finke, Acts of faith (2000)

    Maren Freudenberg

    3.     Religion as differentiated communication: On Niklas Luhmann, A systems theory of religion ([2000] 2013)

    Adrian Hermann

    4.     Religion as the unintended product of brain functions in the ‘standard cognitive science of religion model’: On Pascal Boyer, Religion explained (2001) and The fracture of an illusion (2010)

    Jeppe Sinding Jensen and John Teehan

    5.     The united states of religion: On David Sloan Wilson, Darwin’s cathedral (2002)

    Andrew Atkinson

    6.     Religion as a costly but beneficial evolutionary by-product: On Scott Atran, In gods we trust (2002)

    Nickolas P. Roubekas

    7.     Routes, flow, and homemaking: On Thomas A. Tweed, Crossing and dwelling (2006)

    Carolyn Jones Medine

    8.     Practices and the Promise of Salvation: On Martin Riesebrodt, The promise of salvation (2007/2010)

    Alexander van der Haven

    9.     Religion as anthropotechnics: On Peter Sloterdijk, You must change your life (2009)

    Laura Feldt

    10.  Religion as world maker: On Robert Bellah, Religion in human evolution (2011)

    Seth Abrutyn

    11.  Social practice as a holistic frame: On Stephen S. Bush, Visions of Religion (2014)

    Kevin Schilbrack

    12.  Real religion from the person up: On Christian Smith, Religion (2017)

    Michael Stausberg

    13.  Life in a strange world: On Gavin Flood, Religion and the philosophy of life (2019)

    Paul Hedges

    14.  Orchids and ghosts, concrete and coal: On Paul-François Tremlett, Towards a new theory of religion and social change (2020)

    Matthew Day

    15.  The evolution of semiotic systems: On Volkhard Krech, Evolution der Religion (2021)

    István Czachesz

    16.  Davidsonian semantic holism as metatheoretical framework: on Gabriel Levy (2022), Beyond heaven and earth (2022)

    Mark Q. Gardiner and Steven Engler


    Michael Stausberg is Professor of Religion at the University of Bergen, Norway. He is a co-editor of the journal Religion and of The Routledge Handbook of Research Methods in the Study of Religion (second edition, 2021).